The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum in Somerset West, about 40km from Cape Town, documents the appalling conditions faced by migrant labourers in apartheid-era South Africa. The dynamic exhibitions and installations recall this dark South African past, but also shed light on a brighter future.

Did you know?

The Transported of KwaNdebele, a photographic exhibition by world-renowned photographer David Goldblatt, is on permanent display at the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum.

The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum in Somerset West, just 40km from Cape Town, explores the history of apartheid in Cape Town and the Western Cape during the 20th century. In particular, the museum examines harsh realities faced by migrant labourers under the apartheid system.

The museum is a memorial to enforced single-sex hostels and the control of black workers. Under the infamous 'Pass Laws' Act of 1952, it was compulsory for all black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a 'pass book' at all times when in 'white' areas.

In 1958, the small township of Lwandle was established with hostel-type rooms for men who worked at the nearby fruit farms and canning factories. Living conditions for these men, who numbered in the thousands, were appalling. Cramped into confined spaces, the men were often separated from their families for long periods of time, having access to only very basic amenities and rudimentary, substandard ablution facilities.

Conditions worsened in the 1980s when government control of the flow of workers relaxed. Facilities were not upgraded to accommodate the increasing number of workers arriving in the Western Cape and the hostels became even more overcrowded.

The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum was officially opened on 1 May 2000. Imagined as a space to remember the past and learn from for the future, victories as well as defeats are represented in a variety of media, from photography to interactive installations. Permanent and temporary exhibitions are updated regularly.

Some of the museum’s staff members are involved in research projects. Topics include the establishment of the museum, the Lwandle community’s relationship to the museum, and the role played by this museum in the context of post-apartheid reconciliation.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum
Tel: +27 (0)21 845 6119
Email: lwandlemus@tiscali.co.za

How to get here

From Cape Town, take the N2 highway towards Somerset West. Turn right towards Lwandle from the N2. Keep left at the first traffic circle and follow the road to another circle, where you go right. Then take the first exit left and follow Vulindlela Street (keeping left) until you see the museum on your right. Secure parking is available.

Best time to visit

The museum is open from 9am to 4pm from Mondays to Fridays, and from 9am to 12 noon on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.

Tours to do

A walking tour of Lwandle township starts at the museum and offers you the chance to meet and interact with some of the local people. While on the tour, you’ll visit the Hector Pieterson Library, the famous Hostel 33, the town square, a tavern, shops, homes and a craft centre.

What will it cost

Entrance to the museum is R20 for adults, R5 for children and R10 for senior citizens. The walking tour costs R20.

Where to stay

Somerset West and the surrounding towns of Strand, Stellenbosch and Gordon's Bay offer excellent accommodation options. But Lwandle is close enough for a day trip from Cape Town.

What's happening

The museum hosts a number of events throughout the year, including ballroom dancing lessons and open mic sessions for the local community. During August, Women's Month, special events are organised.